When craft brewery veterans Michael Lakacina and Charlie Meers were preparing to open Magnanimous Brewing, they hoped their combined 30 years of mostly local experience in the industry would provide some valuable insight.
Unfortunately, no amount of understanding or training could have helped to anticipate the novel coronavirus pandemic. Fortunately for Magnanimous, the original business plan was only slightly derailed.
During the years of planning, even before shutdowns and social distancing, Lakacina and Meers had always planned to do one thing distinctly differently from nearly every other brewery opening. They would have canned beer to-go from the very start.
“We’re just lucky because, for whatever reason, the concept and the model that we had for the brewery is working right now,” says Lakacina. “We haven’t really had to pivot on anything. We had already planned on opening up with a bunch of product in cans and trying to get the to-go stuff ready.
“I can’t recall going to another local brewery opening where they had five or six beers in cans ready to go.”
The idea, early on, was to have a defined branding identity for guests to carry away with them – literally. When they began to realize that Magnanimous would open during the pandemic, it was a consolation to know that even if the tasting room was shut down, the cans would be available.
There were risks, however. They’d be canning product without a chance to focus-group in the taproom.
“It was crazy risky for us – dumb, stupid, I don’t know how many other words you can use,” says Lakacina. “We had never brewed on the brewhouse before, so some of these beers it was the first time we’d ever brewed the recipe, first run on the brewhouse ever, and those were going straight into cans.”
Magnanimous opened October 2, 2020, in a former church building on Florida Avenue just north of Interstate 275 in the Tampa Heights neighborhood. The tasting room is in the high-ceilinged former sanctuary while the brewing facility is in more spacious but less lofty back rooms.
Magnanimous does not have its own canning line. Instead, it relies on a mobile canning service which must be scheduled in advanced – and charges for sessions even if they are canceled.
For now, Magnanimous is keeping things fairly simple. Almost all of the cans are sold in four-packs out of the taproom, though a small amount have been sent out of state.
“We have distribution that’ll be coming around the corner,” says Meers. “We’re just waiting for the right moment on that…We don’t want to overpromise and under-deliver.”
The branding itself is fairly straightforward. Freelance designer Geiger Powell, who worked with Lakacina and Meers at Cigar City, creates playful labels that all share a common feature – a Van Wyck Brooks quote.
“Magnanimous people have no vanity, they have no jealousy, and they feed on the true and the solid wherever they find it,” the literary critic said. “And, what is more, they find it everywhere.”
Magnanimous is finding its rhythm while turning out experimental recipes and one-off brews. For example, upcoming offerings include Tater (with all ingredients sourced from Idaho) and Mitten (brewed only with hops grown in Michigan).
This approach also gives the brewers something to do while waiting out the pandemic.
“The original business plan was based on having big events, on traveling and going to festivals,” says Lakacina. Their thinking, he says, was “the Super Bowl is going to be here, WrestleMania is going to be here, we’ll have Tampa Bay Beer Week going on, all of these different things that were our pinnacle events, that were going to pay our rent and our bills.”
Plans may have changed, but Magnanimous persevered.
“To me, that’s been the story,” he says. “We opened up in a pandemic, and we’re doing it.”